CAPE TOWN - Three years after the death of her newborn baby as a result of listeriosis, Thenjiwe Dodo of Bloemfontein said the trauma for her and her family continued as the class action suit against Tiger Brands, involving more than 900 claimants, drags on.
At eight months pregnant in 2018, Dodo was preparing for the final stretch of her pregnancy - a miracle one, as she and her husband had tried for eight years to start a family.
She said eating polony was a way to make sure she and her unborn child were nourished.
“Everything was well, the baby would play every morning, then one morning I could feel the baby wasn't playing like he used to.
“I first went to a private doctor, and he told me everything was okay. I went back home but the following day it was the same thing, then I decided to go to hospital.”
When Dodo got to the hospital, she was in pain and doctors informed her she was having labour pains.
She gave birth two days later on February 19, 2018, to baby Nkanyezi.
“Immediately after giving birth, the baby was not crying. They took him away and he was in the ICU and I was in the labour ward. I remember 12 hours after giving birth, that was when I could see my baby.”
At three days old, doctors told Dodo that Nkanyezi had listeriosis and could not breathe on his own.
“Honestly I had no idea what it (listeriosis) was,” she said.
“They (doctors) told me that he was going to be fine, I don’t think I wanted to know more. They said they have antibiotics that will help him. But then they told me that should he be okay, the listeriosis has already affected his brain. He is not going to be like other kids, he will have special needs.”
By day 11, Nkanyezi’s condition deteriorated and he was on life support.
At 16 days old, Nkanyezi passed away.
“It was a very traumatic thing to experience. I never held my son.”
Dodo said staff from the Health Department came to the hospital, asking what she had eaten and where she had been.
“I ate polony. We trusted the brand. When you are pregnant, you have all these cravings and … I wanted something that is quality for my baby. I was infected with (listeriosis) but my immune system was much stronger.”
Dodo said she responded to calls on the news for victims to come forward after the Gauteng High Court in December granted an order permitting a class action lawsuit to be brought against Tiger Brands by Richard Spoor Inc Attorneys and LHL Attorneys Inc, as joint legal representatives of the class with US Law firm Marler Clark LLP.
In the latest development in the case, on November 5, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) heard appeals regarding subpoenas that Tiger Brands issued to the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS), two laboratories and various meat vendors across the country.
These subpoenas sought to obtain information relating to the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in facilities and products over the outbreak period from October 2016 to September 2018.
Tiger Brands submitted that the key issue at the heart of the subpoenas was whether it could challenge the findings of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) that Tiger Brands was the sole source of the outbreak.
Judgment is expected to be handed down early next year.
Lead attorney on the case, Catherine Marcus, said: “We believe that this is a fishing expedition - the findings of the NICD that Tiger Brands’ Enterprise facility in Polokwane was the sole source of the outbreak are clear. However, the High Court held that the defendants are entitled to pursue the subpoenas.
“This has caused significant delays to the matter as a whole, delays caused by the defendants, with expansive resources, which primarily affect the victims of the class action - regular consumers, many of whom are vulnerable and depend on compensation from the defendants for the significant harms caused by their consumption of the Enterprise product. The longer the matter is drawn out, the longer these victims are unable to access the necessary resources to rebuild their lives.”
The NICD reported over 1000 victims of the outbreak, and Marcus said with over 900 claimants, they continued to be approached by more.
Tiger Brands said they were not in a position to comment on the matter while it is before the courts but reiterated that they remained committed to abiding by the court legal processes and to ensuring that a resolution of the matter is reached in the shortest possible time.
“In 2018, we partnered with Stellenbosch University to launch the first Centre for Food Safety in the country. Through this partnership, we have access to the latest research, trends and training to ensure we consistently lead the way in the areas of food quality and safety.
“We hold ourselves, and our suppliers and third-party manufacturing partners, to the same stringent standards. All our manufacturing sites conduct self-assessments against the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) tool, as well as internal quality and food safety standards. All our food factories are audited and certified by an independent international auditing body against the internationally recognised Food Safety System Certification (FSSC22000), a GFSI-recognised scheme,” Tiger Brands said in a statement.
In 2019, Tiger Brands joined the European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group to advance the hygiene standards across manufacturing facilities.
Dodo said the slow progress of the class action was further traumatising.
“I don't think they can understand the trauma that listeriosis has caused for us. They were supposed to be protecting us and giving us the best quality, but we lost our loved ones.”